Saturday, November 06, 1999

Irish Times, 1 August 1995

Appreciation: Padraic O Neill

When I first met Padraic O Neill, he was a member of the Radio Eireann Players company and had taken part in some plays I had written for the drama department of which Micheal O hAodha was head. Radio Eireann had begun putting together the Radio Eireann players (known generally as the Rep) in 1947 and by the 1950s the standard of their performances had won them nationwide popularity.

All across the country, Sunday night had come to be set aside for two compulsive programmes, the first being Question Time with Joe Linnane, followed by the Sunday night play. One recalls highlights in a succession of striking productions. These inclide Siobhan McKenna in Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan; Steeple Jerkin and a number of powerful verse plays on Irish mythological themes by Padraic Fallon which seemed to leap out of the set to fill the whole room with movement and colour. There were memorable guest productions also. Such as Tyrone Guthrie’s Peer Gynt and Denis Johnston’s adaptation and production of The Old Lady Says No with Micheal Mac Liammoir as The Speaker (Robert Emmet).

However Paddy had moved away from the green room (so to speak) to the administration and production side in 1954 and when I myself joined the Drama and Variety Department of Radio Eireann in August 1955, I found myself sharing an office wirh him. I realised that acting was only one of his gifts in the multisided proidfession of radio broadcasting. He bgan the task of introducing me into a complex and unfamiliar world. There were plays upon plays submitted by aspiring playwrights which had to be read, and passed on for a decision to accept or reject, while the variety side of the department had a long list of shows that were revived from time to time for which scripts had to be commissioned and then read for approval, and for which studios or outside venues had to be booked and artists engaged. Among the most regular of these, for instance were Beginners Please; The School Around the Corner; Meet the Mulligans; Question Time – and one which Paddy seemed to regard very much as his own - Take the Floor.

These in turn brought leading entertainers into the office : Joe Linnane, Din Joe, Paddy Crosbie, Jilly O Dea’ Maureen Potter, Harry O’Donovan and several more. Among all these household names, Paddy introduced me one morning to another who dropped along from time to time and who, Paddy had come to regard as an aspiring performer. I was sitting at my desk with the back to the office window, which overlooked the hustle and bustle of Henry Street far down below it, when I was startled by an impatient tapping on the glass. I looked around to find an elderly, grimy looking slouch of a seagull, looking as down and out as a Beckett creation, standing on the window ledge and squinting irritably at me through the glass.

Paddy looked around and began rooting in his desk. “That’s Pete”, he told me. Then he took out some barley seed or nuts, or some such thing, left them on the sill and closed the window again. Pete, he explained, had begin to call when a seafaring series was running which was punctuated frequently by a disc that played in the sound of flocks of seagulls following a ship. Paddy had decided that Pete had heard them and had called looking for a job. There was no way of conveying to him that the sounds were on an effects disc. Pete was numbered among our applicants for an audition but gave up his visits after a while.

In the forty odd years of friendship with Paddy I saw him take part in an enormous variety of productions. They ranged from from current affairs to entertainment programmes such as The School Around the Corner and Take the Floor. He acted as interlocuter on several interview programmes, wrote scripts in Irish for children’s radio programmes and later supplied scripts for Jimmy O’Dea for his children’s series on RTE television called Once Upon a Time. He was narrator on films produced by RTe television also. He administered and acted as chairman of the judges panel for the Francis McManus Short Story Awards. As Paddy O’Brien he did commentaries on greyhound racing and found time to become chairman of Bord n gCon.

But above all that he was a thoughtful and caring friend and a man of gentle and unfailing courtesy for all who worked with him. These were qualities possessed in equal measure by his dear wife Maureen and all his family. They have the deep sympathy of all of us who know them.

JP (James Plunkett)

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